Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when someone who drinks excessively or suffers from alcohol abuse suddenly stops and experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome may range from relatively mild symptoms to more severe withdrawal symptoms that are physically dangerous and may include symptoms such as anxiety, increased heart rate, agitation, irritability, high blood pressure, seizures and in some rare cases delirium tremens.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone has a physical dependence to alcohol and begins to experience alcohol withdrawal when drinking stops. Alcohol use disorder, alcohol abuse and excessive alcohol use are all a serious problem, and many people continue to drink due to alcohol cravings, despite the negative consequences it can have in your life, and to avoid quitting alcohol. Many people continue drinking alcohol to avoid the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that happen during the alcohol detox process.
Alcohol detox and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are well-known in the addiction community for being physically and psychologically distressing. When it is done at home without medical detox and not in a safe and supportive environment, alcohol withdrawal can even be deadly. Some people will experience only symptoms that are mild, while others may have a harder time and have severe symptoms like delirium tremens.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, especially for someone who drinks to the point of severe alcohol consumption. There can be physical symptoms as well as mental symptoms that occur. When someone builds up an alcohol dependence their body begins to crave it and need it to feel “normal.” Within hours of your last drink, your body will begin to display alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal and detoxing from alcohol is thought to happen because of various changes in brain activity in the central nervous system that are caused by excessive alcohol use. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are associated with disruptions in brain chemicals that include both inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter activity—the balance between the two having been upended to begin with because of prolonged alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Mild Withdrawal Symptoms
The most common mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Poor memory and decision-making
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping with intense dreams and nightmares
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Higher sensitivity to light, sounds or touches
- Higher heart rate, often over 100 beats per minute
- Poor appetite
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Some of the most common severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Seizures, caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain
- Hallucinations, where a person hears, tastes, sees, feels, or smells something that is not there
- Severe confusion
- Abnormal liver function
- Liver disease
- Delusional thinking, where a person believes something despite a lack of evidence
- Delirium tremens or withdrawal delirium (you are more likely to experience delirium tremens if you are a middle-aged or an older person, experienced a seizure during a previous alcohol withdrawal, have an abnormal liver function, have a mental health disorder, or have abused alcohol for an extended period.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above severe withdrawal from alcohol symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
What are Delirium Tremens?
Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Vivid hallucinations
- Extreme tremors
- Autonomic hyperactivity
- Rapid heart rate or tachycardia
Detox is a safe, medically supervised environment where individuals can safely detox from alcohol and other substances while receiving the proper medical treatment needed to ensure the most comfortable detox experience possible.
As you enter detox, you will undergo an evaluation from a medical professional. During this process, a medical professional will determine the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. They will also be looking at your overall mental and physical health. The staff at Inland Detox will work closely with you to develop an individualized detox plan to effectively meet your needs. You can rest assured that our staff will make your detox a pain-free process.
Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal
Everyone will experience withdrawal symptoms in a different way and have a varying alcohol withdrawal timeline when it comes to how they detox from alcohol. Here is a general withdrawal timeline regarding the alcohol detox process. There are different stages of alcohol withdrawal that will determine what type of symptoms a person will experience. The withdrawal process is divided into four steps and broken up as follows:
Withdrawal symptoms begin to manifest around six to eight hours after drinking one’s last alcoholic beverage.
Withdrawal symptoms peak between twenty-four to seventy-two hours after drinking one’s last alcoholic beverage.
Withdrawal symptoms begin to taper off between five to seven days after one’s last alcohol intake.
Lingering alcohol detox withdrawal symptoms that last weeks or months after an individual’s last drink of alcohol.
Regarding the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal timeline here are the most common time frames of when people will experience mild to severe symptoms.
6-12 Hours After the Last Drink
The relatively mild symptoms of early withdrawal may begin to be felt, including mild anxiety, small tremors, headache, some headache, insomnia, and stomach upset.
By 24 hours
Some people may have begun to experience visual, auditory hallucinations.
Within 24-72 hours
Most alcohol withdrawals may have peaked and could begin to resolve or level off (though some alcohol withdrawal symptoms may stick around for weeks or months).
The most severe symptoms may happen during this time. Alcohol withdrawal seizures may be at the highest risk from 24-48 hours after alcohol consumed, requiring close medical attention and seizure prophylaxis. Withdrawal delirium tremens (i.e., DTs) may appear from 48-72 hours after drinking has stopped.
What Affects My Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Some factors affecting the severity of withdrawal include:
- How long the person has been abusing alcohol
- Pre-existing mental and physical health conditions
- The quantity of alcohol they consume
- Family addiction history
- How frequently they drink
- Their history with addiction to other substances
- Their age
The best way to handle alcohol withdrawal management is to be under the supervision of a medical professional where you can be medically reviewed. They can provide professional medical advice and potentially treat your systems. Alcohol withdrawal treatment may require medications or other medical detox services to remain the safest and most comfortable during the detox process.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimated 86.3 percent of the American population (over the age of eighteen) to have had at least one drink in their lifetime.
Someone who needs to drink alcohol or has had prolonged alcohol use may be at risk for physical dependence and an alcohol use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration approximately 2.3 million of adolescent children aged 12 to 17 in 2019 drank alcohol in the past month, and 1.2 million of these individuals engaged in binge drinking in that time.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
- Not able to cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down on how much you drink
- Spending a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking, or recovering from alcohol use
- Feeling a strong urge and craving to drink alcohol
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at school, home or work due to repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it is causing interpersonal, physical, or social problems
- Giving up or reducing hobbies, social or work activities
- Drinking alcohol in environments where it is not safe, such as when you are swimming or driving
- Building up a tolerance for alcohol so you need more of it to feel the same effects as you had previously with a smaller amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as sweating, nausea, and shaking — when you do not drink
When Do I Need Help?
Knowing when to get help is the first step in treating an alcohol dependence or addiction. Generally, it is a sign that you need treatment for your substance abuse when you can no longer control how much you are drinking.
You may also realize that you need help with alcohol abuse when you begin experiencing consequences that are specifically related to your heavy drinking – but you still are unable to stop or cut back on the amount that you are currently drinking.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, “Although medically assisted detoxification can safely manage the acute symptoms of withdrawal and can, for some, pave the way for effective long-term addiction treatment, detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicted individuals achieve long-term abstinence.”
Treatment for alcohol use disorder and drug abuse typically consists of treating the mental health disorders that are associated with your alcohol use. Often, when you drink heavily and have an alcohol use disorder you also have co-occurring mental health disorders and to get past the addiction, those disorders need to be addressed by a mental health professional.
What is the DSM-IV?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies alcoholism into two DSM–IV disorders, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Treatment at Inland Detox
Inland Detox is an addiction treatment center that treats alcohol addiction along with other drugs. Our substance abuse treatment facility is among the best in the country, and our mental health providers can help treat the reason behind addiction and the symptoms that people experience with a substance abuse problem.
Our substance abuse treatment center specializes in all types of addiction, and our addiction treatment team consists of highly trained mental health addiction specialists. Some of our substance abuse treatment services include alcohol detox care, cognitive behavioral therapies, holistic care options and other ways to relieve symptoms of addiction.
We understand the toll that it takes on someone who has abused alcohol for a long period of time. It not only effects them but their family as well. If you or someone you know is struggling with any type of addiction, please contact our facility form information on our treatment programs.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).